little boy flexing muscles leadership strengths

How To Develop Your Employees’ Leadership Strengths

By Baili Bigham

Leadership isn’t about authority.

Contrary to what most believe, leadership is an opportunity to serve and empower others. By creating the space for people to discover their natural talents, those at the top can help to develop leadership strengths on every level.

Unfortunately, companies often fall short of actually utilizing the leadership strengths of their people because they aren’t taking the time to discern their personal talents. In fact, some organizations focus on the shortcomings of their people instead of seeking out their best traits. They do this as a way to “fix” the bad rather than to grow the good.

When this is the case, an employee’s happiness can take a steep decline. It turns out that employees are not motivated to improve themselves by fixating on what is wrong. They are deeply encouraged by the strengths they already have, and using them to create real, positive change. When managers choose to aim their attention towards what’s “right” in a person, employee engagement skyrockets.

So, how can we pinpoint an individual’s leadership strengths? If there are seven billion people on earth, and each one is profoundly different, how can you extract and divide the traits that are their strongest and weakest? Luckily today, there are numerous resources available at our fingertips to help us do just that.

In this post we discuss two reliable assessments that are not only backed by years of scientific research, but have been used firsthand by every leader and employee at 15Five with tremendous success.

Gallup CliftonStrengths

Up first is Gallup CliftonStrengths. This online survey is the holy grail of talent discovery and can help you uncover what you naturally do best, therefore helping to guide your development.

To gain this information, you must partake in a short assessment with various paired statements from which you will choose the ones that resonate with you. By doing this, Gallup CliftonStrength is able to measure intimate details of your personality, such as the way you behave in everyday situations.

Once completed, you’ll receive a Signature Themes Report consisting of your top five “themes,” or talents. Each of the 34 potential themes are further categorized and divided into four domains. These domains answer four separate questions.

• How do you absorb, think about, and analyze information and situations?

The domain connected to these themes is strategic thinking. Those who are exceptionally talented in this area are often deep thinkers, learners, info collectors, and intellectuals.

Leaders who have strategic thinking as one of their strengths are not ones to make reckless moves in business or in their personal lives. People with this strength often let future possibilities ruminate before proceeding with a thoughtful plan-of-action.

• How do you make things happen?

Those with leadership strengths in this domain are excellent executors. If strategic thinkers can be counted on to outline and design the right plan, executors will be the ones to ensure the job gets done well. People with this talent are often hyper-organized, deliberative in their actions, focused, and reliable. Once an executor steps onto a project, you can be absolutely certain that no detail will be skipped, and it will come to fruition.

• How do you influence others?

Many successful leaders are known to be influencers. Being able to influence others can create a lasting impact at a company. Types of people that belong in this domain include good communicators, confident risk-takers, and those that can thrive in a competitive environment. Influencers are also no stranger to the art of persuasion, so employees with these strengths are often talented sales people.

• How do you build and nurture strong relationships?

Relationship builders are the glue that holds many teams together. No matter how incompatible some team members can be, these folks have a way of bringing commonality and peace among the whole group. People who relate to themes in this domain are empathetic, inclusive, seek out potential in others, and are natural collaborators. Relationship builders have the innate ability to strengthen the bonds of those around them.

Each of the themes within the four domains are highly personable and specific to that person, meaning the traits within your top five are unique to you and you alone. In fact, the odds of you sharing your top five strengths with another person is 1 in 33 million.

15Five uses these Gallup CliftonStrengths to understand an individual’s state of “doing.” In this mode, our minds are goal-oriented and motivated to create the end results we desire. This could be something as simple as doing the dishes, or as complex as seeking happiness.

By measuring what our state of “doing” looks like, we can use our leadership strengths to monitor and ultimately meet our objectives. Check out this case study sharing how the 15Five team learned to use the collective strengths of each team member.

VIA Character Strengths

By definition, character is the particular combination of things about a person, especially parts you cannot see, that make that person different from others.

Your character is determined by your surroundings, the people around you, genetics, and of course, yourself. Discovering the details that make up your character can be difficult without the right guidance or counseling to help you fully understand it.

The VIA Survey is a personality test created by the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, and Chris Peterson. Their research introduced a way to measure an individual’s specific character strengths. Character strengths are the positive personality traits we have that dictate how we think, feel, and behave, whether we are at work or at home.

In the early 2000s, Dr. Seligman and Dr. Peterson observed that people often focus on the negative aspects of their lives, which can be both discouraging and overwhelming. In response to this staggering realization, the two suggested that rather than dwelling on what could go wrong, we should be celebrating the parts of life that could go right.

From their research, the two psychologists and their colleagues found that across various countries, cultures, and religions, everyone shares the same general virtues:

1. Wisdom and Knowledge
2. Courage
3. Humanity
4. Justice
5. Temperance
6. Transcendence

These 6 core virtues, when achieved, help people to lead happier, healthier lifestyles. The same psychologists then identified 24 possible character strengths that when practiced and developed, can lead to attaining the core virtues above.

According to research done by VIA, “Every individual possesses all 24 character strengths in different degrees, giving each person a unique character profile. You can discover your personal character strengths profile by taking the scientifically validated VIA Survey.”

Studies have shown that if you aim attention at certain aspects of your personality, you can work to enhance and evolve your character. This is incredibly encouraging, especially for those who know which habits they want to kick, but didn’t know they had the capability.

By focusing on the leadership strengths you have rather than honing in on your weaknesses, you can improve your overall mental well-being. In the same vein, focusing on others’ strengths can also create a positive impact by deepening those connections.

15Five uses VIA Character Strengths to gauge a person’s state of “being.” This mode is achieved when our brains are in neutral, freely living in the moment. In this state, we are not rushing to get to our next destination or beating the clock to reach a goal. This a time when we allow ourselves to fully experience the richness of the present. Understanding our character strengths allows us to recognize and expand in these moments.

Building a strengths-based culture

Because of the scientific findings that both the Gallup CliftonStrengths and VIA Character Strengths surveys have unveiled, people can easily seek out which of their positive traits are worth cultivating.

These assessments are intended to help you leverage your individual strengths in ways you never thought possible. Why only focus on one of your strengths when you can take full advantage of them all?

Those in leadership positions have the unique opportunity to find out the strengths their employees, and apply them to create better performing teams. Not only will this boost each person’s productivity, but the overall employee experience will organically improve as well.

Creating a workplace culture that focuses on the strengths of each employee starts at the very top. Without full C-suite buy-in, middle managers and junior employees won’t feel empowered to find, exercise, or nurture these valuable qualities.

Once there is firm alignment from top-to-bottom, continue this momentum by keeping the conversation going. Bake this topic into your weekly check-ins or 1-on-1 meetings so you can be sure the career trajectory of your employees don’t just satisfy the company goals, but their personal development as well.

Supporting the development of your employees’ strengths in and outside of the workplace will allow them to build on their most beneficial traits. This can lead to a company made up of better collaborators, strong executors, and influential leaders. By establishing this growth mindset, you can help every individual you lead to become the very best version of themselves.

Baili Bigham is Content Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Baili isn’t writing, you can find her binge reading a new book or strategizing ways to pet every dog in San Francisco.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


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